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UN expert calls for a holistic, non-binary approach to violence

20 June 2022

GENEVA (20 June 2022) – Governments must adopt a holistic response to violence by addressing the ways it manifests in different contexts a UN expert said today, urging States to repeal and denounce laws and practices that enable violence and jeopardise the right to health.

In her second report to the Human Rights Council, Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, focuses on multiple forms of violence and their impact on the right to health. The report analyses different types of violence and its different contexts; within families, between partners, which was intensified by COVID-19 lockdowns; brutality by State agents in democracies and dictatorships alike; and discrimination against marginalised groups rising to levels of violence.

“Interpersonal and societal/structural violence is often rooted in discrimination and situations of vulnerability,” Mofokeng told the Council. “These forms of violence do not originate in a vacuum, but in contexts of inequality and multiple forms of discrimination, including racism, ableism, patriarchy and classism,” she said.

“A substantive equality approach to the right to health when responding to violence requires addressing common root causes of violence entrenched in patriarchy, systems of oppression, systemic racism, inequalities, and binary approaches to gender,” the expert noted.

Mofokeng indicated the binary conceptualisation of gender being strictly heteronormative creates an assumption that shapes how LGBTIQ+ persons navigate social, political, economic, and legal structures. “This conceptualisation is one of the root causes of particularly brutal forms of gender-based violence, hate crimes and hate speech LGBTIQ+ persons face,” she said. “It is rooted in the desire to punish people whose identities, expressions and bodies do not conform to the heteronormative, man/woman binary system and this type of violence manifests in acts often committed or condoned by State actors.”

In her report, the Special Rapporteur clarifies the legal obligations that arise under the right to health framework in addressing violence and stresses that violence was a threat to human dignity.

Mofokeng called on States to expand the definition of gender-based violence to include violence based on sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, including all cisgender, queer, intersex and transgender women and feminine presenting people.


The expert: Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng (South Africa) is the Special Rapporteur on the right to health since August 2020. She is a medical doctor with expertise advocating for universal health access, HIV care, youth friendly services and family planning. Tlaleng Mofokeng is a member of the boards of Safe Abortion Action Fund, Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Wellbeing, Accountability International. She is also the Chair of the Soul City Institute board. Her areas of focus have been on gender equality, policy, maternal and neonatal health, universal health access, post violence care, menstrual health, and HIV management. Tlaleng Mofokeng has been Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa and advisor to the Technical Committee for the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy in South Africa.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Ms Karin Hechenleitner Schacht (+41 22 917 8458 / [email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha (+41 79 506 10888 / [email protected])

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